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International flying remains stalled despite domestic recoveries

Global international air travel remained stalled in April due to government border restrictions, but domestic air traffic continued to recover strongly, airline association Iata has reported.

Iata’s latest traffic figures reveal a global increase in domestic demand month on month in April, which remained almost 26% down on 2019 levels but improved by six percentage points on March.

By contrast, international passenger demand remained 87% below the level of April 2019, little changed from an 88% decline in March.

Total air traffic was down 65% on 2019, an improvement from 67% in March driven by gains in major domestic markets.

All major domestic markets except Brazil and India showed improvement, with China and Russia reporting growth in traffic above pre-pandemic levels.

Iata director general Willie Walsh said: “The strong recovery in domestic markets tells us that when people are given the freedom to fly, they take advantage.

“Unfortunately, that freedom still does not exist in most international markets. When it does, I’m confident we’ll see a similar resurgence.”

International traffic on Europe’s carriers remained 88% down on 2019 in April, barely changed from March. Capacity was down 78% and passenger flights were on average just 48% full.

Asia-Pacific airlines suffered an even bigger fall in international traffic, down 94% on April 2019, making the region the worst hit for a ninth consecutive month.

Capacity in the region was down 86% on 2019 and the average load factor was just 33.5%.

Middle East carriers recorded an 83% drop in demand on 2019 in April, a slight deterioration from 82% in March. Capacity was down 65% and the average load factor barely 40%.

International traffic in North America was somewhat stronger at 78% down on 2019 compared with 81% in March. Capacity was at 59% and average load factor 45%.

Airlines in Latin America were similar down at 81% of 2019 traffic demand, and carriers in Africa saw traffic reduced by 78% on 2019 – having improved to 74% in March.

However, the world’s biggest domestic markets continued to recover strongly. Domestic traffic in China was almost 7% up on April 2019 from being on a par in March.

US domestic traffic recovered to 35% down on 2019 in April – an improvement from 44% down in March.

Iata noted: “The US domestic market is expected to make a full recovery by the end of this year or early 2022.”

Walsh appealed to G7 leaders meeting in the UK this week to give a lead in restarting international travel.

He said: “Most government policies today default to closing borders. As we enter the peak summer travel season, a more targeted approach is needed.

“After a year-and-a-half of Covid-19 there is sufficient data for governments to manage the risks without blanket travel bans.

“Governments and industry must work together to rebuild connectivity while managing the associated risks. Leadership by the G7 in this direction would be a major step forward.”

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